Darryl Strawberry, once a star rightfielder for the New York Mets who later struggled with cancer and substance abuse, visited the Hematology and Oncology Department at New Hyde Park's Schneider Children's Hospital hoping to inspire the young patients.
"You have to be a person who has been through it," Strawberry said of battling cancer, a disease that doctors found in his colon in 1998. "The average person doesn't know what we deal with - the pain, the depression."
Upon discovering his cancer, doctors removed a 16-inch section of his large intestine, then began chemotherapy after realizing the disease had spread to a lymph node. The cancer was stopped, but it later came back briefly. Strawberry is said to be in remission.
"God has been good to me," he said. Speaking of the children he came to see, the ballplayer added, "they're a lot younger and their struggle has been more difficult than mine."
The trip to Schneider came about after Strawberry approached the baseball division of Spaulding, the sporting goods business, about volunteer opportunities. The nephew of one of the company's employees had been treated at the medical facility, and he recommended that Strawberry go there.
Spaulding provided baseballs and gloves, which the lanky former star autographed and passed out to the children. Although most were too young to remember Strawberry's exploits - many parents and hospital staff easily recalled them - the patients were appreciative nonetheless.
"He's brave about talking about his cancer," said Derek Tillen, a 13-year-old from Forest Hills at the hospital for a blood disorder he has had for a dozen years.
And 16-year-old Ingrid Barcia of Queens Village, who has leukemia, said, "it helps the kids to know that other people care about them."
A spokesman for Strawberry said the slugger has visited public schools and detention centers. Another said it was Strawberry's first hospital stop with Spaulding, but the former player might go to other facilities and later come back to Schneider.
The Mets drafted Strawberry with the first pick of the 1980 Draft and he earned Rookie of the Year Honors with them in 1983 after being called up to the Major Leagues. A star the rest of the decade, he played on eight all-star teams and helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series title. He later displayed brief heroics with the New York Yankees.
Yet many baseball experts said Strawberry never truly lived up to his potential, and in later years he suffered through several injury-plagued seasons. In 1999 he was arrested on charges of cocaine possession and soliciting an undercover cop posed as a prostitute. He went in and out of drug rehab and eventually served nearly a year in prison after breaking his probation several times. He was released last year.
During Strawberry's visit to Schneider, one patient said the retired star was trying to make things right.
"He didn't have to wake up and come over here," said Caisa Khalid, a 19-year-old from St. Albans who did not disclose her illness. "He's human. Everybody makes mistakes."
A spokesman for Spaulding said Strawberry is clean and travels with his own minister for support. The star himself said he was making progress, with the Schneider stop an element of that process.
"It's part of my journey," Strawberry said. "I feel whole."
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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